going deep on multiple fields

Published on May 10, 2020

I like to think of myself as a generalist.

The idea behind being a generalist -- or someone who embraces “wide T” structures in their learning -- is that you are not confined to a single discipline in your learning. You could be a writer by career, but you may also be interested in science fiction and chromatography.

My passion for being a generalist is rooted in my belief that some of the best ideas in the world are those that exist at the intersection between two or more fields. One concept from economics, for instance, could merge with something in business to help us better understand the nature of both fields.

When you are young, I think it is important to go deep on multiple fields, and explore different ideas.

I have recently been doing a lot of reading on the topics of careers and personal development. However, my interests lie further outside of these fields. I love reading about business and venture capital. Economics is interesting to me, too.

One perspective you can have on the idea of being a generalist is that, if you focus on so many fields, you’ll never become an expert at anything, and you’ll always be the person with incomplete knowledge on a specific topic. But I don’t think this is the case.

Being a generalist means that you have broad horizons. I can hold a pretty decent conversation about basic economic principles, and I can discuss at length my thoughts on building startup communities. These two topics may be fundamentally different -- and may not have many overlaps -- but I have knowledge in both of them.

I have embraced this mindset because I believe that being young is all about exploration. Whereas many young people take a gap year to travel to different countries -- or whereas many young people take “sample” courses at universities to test out different fields -- I explore different topics in my free learning.

Widening my “T” -- in other words, exploring new fields -- gives me the opportunity to learn about new topics that I may not otherwise have considered. These topics may not help me advance my career ambitions, but they will give me useful insights nonetheless. Indeed, one concept that I learn about from communities could combine to make me a better writer.

There is a high chance that many of the things I am studying right now will not be a priority for me in a few months. Perhaps I will decide that I want to specialize in one field. However, I am happy with that prospect, for at least I will have given myself the chance to look at different ideas and see which ones resonate most with me.

I have been tempted to specialize early, and to go deep on one or two ideas. While this is a viable career path -- think of Tiger Woods, for example -- I have found that, for me at least, going deep on multiple fields makes the most sense right now. Then, when I am sure I have found something that I want to invest more time in, I will do so (or maybe I’ll always be a generalist, who knows?).

My main goal is to continue learning as much as possible about the world. To do so, I know that I need to stay curious, and one of the best ways to stay curious is to not ignore something on the merits of the field with which that thing is associated.

Why should I not read an article about reducing hours in high school if that is something that I find interesting in this moment? Why should I not read more about startup community building if the topic has piqued my interest for one reason or another?

Do you have any feedback on this blog post? Send me an email.
Do you want to hear more from me? Subscribe to my weekly Coffee with James newsletter.
Subscribe
Made by @jamesg_oca. Code on GitHub.